PTOLEMAEUS, Claudius (after 83 - ca 168 AD). World Map. Rome: Domitius Calderinus, 1478

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PTOLEMAEUS, Claudius (after 83 - ca 168 AD). World Map. Rome: Domitius Calderinus, 1478

2 sheets joined, float-mounted and framed (framed size: 25 x 32 inches; sheet size: 15 4/8 x 21 4/8 inches). Fine copper-engraved map of the world as it was understood by the Alexandrine ancients, on a Ptolemaic projection, ie modified cone shape, printed on two plates, extending from Great Britain in the northwest, the Canary islands in the west, mid-China in the east, and northern Africa in the south, the Indian Ocean features a large island, Taprobana, now Sri Lanka, lettered in Roman capitals (expert and discreet repairs to centrefold).

First published in "Claudii Ptolemaei Alexandrini philosophi Geographiam Arnoldus Buckinck e Germania Romae", in Rome in 1478, and reissued using the same copper plates, without change, in 1490. "The Rome maps, including the world map, are each printed from two plates. The lettering is in neat Roman captials of varying size and punched directly onto the plate. The sea is finely pock-marked. Although the continental outline remains unchanged, a great deal more geographic detail is included throughout; for instance, more than a dozen features are marked in Arabic compared with none in the Bologna edition. Degrees of latitude and longitude and the climates are shown on the borders but (unlike the earlier Bologna and later Ulm editions) no co-ordinate lines are drawn across the surface of the map. External border decoration is also ommitted completely" (Shirley 4).

The importance of this seemingly simple, elegant world map from the 1478 Rome edition of Ptolemy’s 'Georgraphia' is impossible to overstate. It is considered by most historians to represent the apex of cartographic and technological progress in the fifteenth century (a time of major strides in the development of both printing and mapmaking). In terms of accuracy, beauty and graceful engraving, it remained the finest printed Ptolemaic map for nearly one hundred years after its publication.

"The new copper plates engraved at Rome for the 1478 edition of Ptolemy's 'Geography' are much superior in clarity and craftsmanship to those of the Bologna edition [of 1477]. There is evidence that work on the Rome edition had been started in 1473 or 1474, and several of the plates may well have been engraved before those printed at Bologna in 1477. The printing was carried out by two skilled printers of German origin: Conrad Sweynheym and his successor Arnold Buckinck; the publisher was Domitius Calderinus. Many consider the Rome plates to be the finest Ptolemaic plates produced until Gerard Mercator engraved his classical world atlas of 1578" (Shirley 4).

Ptolemy, the great Greek geographer, mathematician and astronomer, lived most of his life in Alexandria, the cultural center of the Hellenistic world. In about 160 A.D. he completed his "Guide to the Delineation of the World," which--after the New Testament--was the most enduring document of Christian doctrine, lasting for over 1400 years. Although he based much of his work on the information and learning of his predecessors, Ptolemy was the first to systematize geographical knowledge and to approach cartography in a scientific, systematic manner. His projection showed the sphericity of the earth and stressed the importance of determining exact latitude and longitude. Ptolemy, in fact, laid down principles of cartography almost two thousand years ago which in their essentials are in use to this day.  

Northern European immigrants to Rome, Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Buckinck engraved this world map in the Eternal City in 1478. In 1465, Sweynheym had set up the first printing press in all of Italy, and with the help of mathematicians, he was the first to apply the new art of copper-engraving to the printing of maps. This innovation was a true landmark in the history of map printing, and the copper-plate medium soon became the standard on which all map publications were based. Only thirty-nine copies of the first 1478 edition were known to exist in 1952, perhaps even fewer today. This represents a rare opportunity to acquire an early modern map of outstanding significance. Lloyd Arnold Brown, The World Encompassed, exh. cat. (Baltimore, 1952), n. 36; Rodney W. Shirley, The Mapping of the World (London, 1983), n. 4. London, 1983.